How to make a water feature with an oak half barrel


For some time now I have wanted to create a small pond in my garden but have never got round to it. Although ponds filled and surrounded with plants can look very attractive the main reason for me is to attract wildlife and by that I am really thinking frogs, which I am lead to believe are great for keeping down slug populations that always destroy my hosta foliage. We have a cat and I am aware some prey on frogs whilst others ignore them. It will be interesting to find out if ours is a frogger, it’s certainly a mouser.

Last week I bought a large “genuine” oak half barrel with the intention of   planting it with sucession planting until it struck me I could turn it into a successional planted water feature. After examination I realised there were narrow gaps between the lengths of wood. Would I need to incorporate a liner or seal it? Remembering it was “genuine” and had held whisky and being aware of how my wooden fence gate expands and contracts in wet and dry weather I thought I would fill it to see what happens. It fills to a few inches from the top before it starts to seep out and leaving it for a couple of nights it did not empty any further so all good.

After a visit to my local water garden nursery I was told to keep it filled and regularly toped up with water and it could take up to a month before it becomes fully water tight. It made me think of the old wooden sailing boats from centuries past exploring the seas and realising if they were out of the water too long the wood would contract making the ship very leaky. My other concern was chemicals in the wood from the whisky mixing with the water and was told he was never aware of any problem there. I do not intend to keep fish so no fear of intoxicating them.

 A note of caution, there are a number of retailers selling oak half barrels which are robust enough but they have been produced for the garden planting market for which they are very good value, However they were never intended to hold alcohol and their ability to expand and retain water is questionable. They could be lined, but liners never look good in barrels, or realistic looking plastic half barrels are available but in my opinion nowhere near as good looking or large as the genuine ones.

I dug out a few inches of top soil to sink the barrel level with existing planting and give it a look of having been there a while placing it on some bricks to keep it off the soil , allowing air to circulate and slow the rotting process. The barrel itself I placed close to mature planting which will act as a backdrop to the feature as well as no doubt being shelter to birds and insects which will benefit from my barrel pond. Around the barrel to add to the impression of permanency I transplanted a fern, epimedium, euphorbia and some  plants from last week’s plant heritage sale including the  a dwarf form of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) called Alchemilla erythropoda and  Bowles’ golden sedge Carex elata “Aurea”.


Giving the plants time to fill out it will look great in no time.  The barrel is level it’s the camera angle that could have been better.


For placing in the barrel itself I have initially purchased three  aquatic plants, the oxygenating curly pond thyme, Elodea crispa  to prevent the water becoming stagnant, water mint, Mentha aquatic and the architectural Equisetum ramosissimum var japonicum commonly known as branched horsetail which I will not allow to escape into other parts of my garden.

 As my experience and knowledge increases I will add more plants to my water barrel. The plants within the barrel sit on bricks which I have placed in a step like fashion together with two bits of branch strapped together with cable ties so any unfortunate animals falling in have a chance to climb out.


6 thoughts on “How to make a water feature with an oak half barrel

  1. The pond looks great but ( you knew there was a but) I find frogs as a method of slug control are a bit of a let down. I am lucky enough to have lots of frogs and toads in the garden, unfortunately, there are also hordes of slugs! I tell myself to just enjoy the pond and the benefits for other wildlife.
    Enjoy your blog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s